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Last night after a good dinner and a couple of glasses of wine I started idly pondering what it was that attracted me (a 40ish white woman) to Barack Obama so strongly that I was never able to seriously consider Hillary Clinton as a candidate.  (And also, why I was so sensitive to her RFK comment).  Here's what I came up with.

I was born in November of 1968.  The Summer of Love was over.  The Chicago police had already deployed the tear gas.  And all of the heroes were already dead.

I don't know how much my mother mourned Martin Luther King and RFK while I was gestating, through April and May and summer of 1968.  She wasn't very countercultural.  But I know that I came out already a cynic, imbued with skepticism and a cool detachment.  From the time I was very young, my parents would tell their friends "she's (however many years old I was) going on 40".

I was rocked in the cradle of the American misadventure in Vietnam.

My first memories of television are twofold:  I remember the Hanna-Barbera cartoon "Josie and the Pussycats", and I remember the Watergate scandal and the televised Watergate hearings.  In my lifetime, presidents were always bad men.

Always, that is, except for Jimmy Carter.  Jimmy Carter was a good man and he was going to put us back on track.  But then we were tricked.  We were October Surprised.  And I admit, to my shame, that when I was 12 years old I voted for John Anderson, the independent, in the 1980 mock election at my junior high school.  I couldn't ever bring myself to vote for Reagan.  And as it became clear that we had been October Surprised, I became a lifelong Democrat.  With the exception of one or two local elections I have never voted for anything but a Democrat since.

My teenage years were full of Central American death squads and dictators and Ronald Reagan's paramilitary misadventures.  For other people, it might have been "morning in America" but it turned into five minutes to midnight pretty quickly if you were at all interested in the news of the world.  My family belonged to a Unitarian Universalist church, and we got (and read) the newspaper, and there was a pretty active Sanctuary movement in my town so I couldn't miss all the bad things that were going down in the world with our blessing and support.  The murder of El Salvadoran Jesuits by US-supported right wing death squads was my "birthright" as an American; aside from the Challenger explosion and the Iran-Contra affair (which effectively went unpunished) that is the event from that period which is seared into my memory.

I participated in the debate team in high school and my favorite teacher (RIP Jeff Stockwell) openly called himself a socialist and deliberately led us to critique and question American policies, but I had already got to that point on my own.  I recognized the affinity between our Republicans and the murderous right wing dictatorships that assassinated or "disappeared" people...and I recognized the similarity between those victims and my family -- when they weren't just poor and defenseless, they were so often liberals, often educated, often professors (like my dad, and like I wanted to be).

In college I saw Michael Dukakis Willie Hortoned and my friends and I watched on the TV in the dorm as he went down in flames in the 1988 election.  And then we had a truly bad man as President, a spymaster with narrow weaselly little eyes and a secretive mien.

I was on the wrong side of all the Democratic primary contests in the 90s and 00s.  I favored Jerry Brown over Bill Clinton and I favored Bill Bradley over Al Gore and then I favored Howard Dean over John Kerry and every single time my favorite candidate was hustled out and the more centrist candidate got the prize and then disappointed us deeply by losing, or (almost more egregiously) by bending over backwards to compromise, compromise, compromise and in the end turning out to be only partially a genius and a good part buffoon and a little bit of a bad man himself.

Which brings us to Barack Obama.

For the first time in my life, I can imagine a president who would be a good man, who at least holds the ideal of keeping his hands clean, and who might be the modern version of the good-government presidents I learned about from the time I was a child:  Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, JFK.  I can imagine that with Obama at the helm my contemporaries and I might have our own Camelot, even for just a little while.  A woman president someday would be great.  But right now, a president who stands in opposition to the kind of American politics I have witnessed in all of my almost-40 years is more important.

Originally posted to kismet on Sat May 31, 2008 at 05:33 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Camelot was an illusion... (5+ / 0-)

    And, I hope Obama will be more respectful of Michelle and his daughters than Jack Kennedy was of Jackie.

  •  Yes, Camelot was an illusion, but JFK's policies (8+ / 0-)

    were not. Everything from the Peace corps to physical fitness really inspired a new generation. And these is no one of my generation who cannot tell you exactly where he or she was on the day that President Kennedy died.

    •  I don't want to demean your memories... (0+ / 0-)

      but the truth is that JFK got almost nothing accomplished in Congress.  It was only after he was killed that Lyndon Johnson was able to push through much of JFK's agenda by making Congress feel guilty.

      Those are the historical facts.  How you feel emotionally about JFK is another thing.

      I certainly hope that Obama is far more successful, honest, ethical and moral than JFK.

      •  Not at all. I know that most of the legislation (7+ / 0-)

        was passed under Johnson--Voting Rights, Civil Rights, plus Medicare, Medicaid, etc. But there is no question that JKF was inspirational, and Johnson was able to pass this legislation because of the Demcratic landslide in 1964. Some of this landslide had to do with the way that Goldwater was protrayed in the media (the famous daisy ad that only ran once), but some of Johnson's success was certainly based on sympathy for the loss of JFK.

        I was in junior high when Kennedy was killed, so my memories are pretty good.

      •  You, like many of us, seem lost in your (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        lotlizard, drblack, JG in MD

        cynicism. In fact, JFK accomplished a great deal. He may not have gotten much enacted, but he inspired a nation, a generation and a free world that was getting tired of defending democracy in the ideological arena.

        Like many in our era (and like myself, often) your comment reflects a belief that the only kind of effect a President can have is through the legislation he gets through congress. But that is less than half a president's power. More than half a president's power is of the soft kind -- the ability to inspire, to pursuade, to communicate his principles to the people and have the people respond by following where he leads.

        Indeed, as student of history, I know that JFK, Martin Luther King, RFK and a whole boat load of lesser know heroes shaped the entire era, but of the big four -- JFK, MLK, RFK and Johnson (Johnson because he got Kennedy's program enacted) -- we needed all four.

        Despite each being human, they overcame their human foibles in ways that improved the country measurably. Like JFK and RFK, MLK was unfaithful. Johnson deepened our commitment in Viet Nam. But they all knew the right thing to do, and paid the price to do it.

        So each, in his own way, shaped the era and played a key role.

        And 'Camelot' may be said to have been an illusion, but the technological revolution, the growth of the middle class, the death of Jim Crow, and the use of humanitariansim as government policy all continue to shape our world for the better.

        If it's not Camelot, it's awful damn close.

        •  A very rose-colored memory of JFK... (0+ / 0-)
          1. He cared very little personally about Civil Rights
          1. He escalated the war in Vietnam and proped up the Ngo Dinh Diem, the corrupt and miserable dictator of South Vietnam.  
          1. His White House was mired in unethical behavior
          1. Bay of Pigs

          The only thing I will honestly give Kennedy credit for is his diffusion of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

          A less reflective man would have destroyed the world.

          •  No, a postive take on a flawed man. (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            vet24, David Kroning
            1. Despite his unconcern for civil rights, he abetted King's movment and layed the foundation for Johnson's civil rights legislation;
            1. Vietnam was Ike's war; JFK had started talking de-escalation just before his death;
            1. Too broad a charge; you need to be more specific.
            1. Again, Ike's baby. Kennedy stepped in and cut it off before it could lead to war with the USSR.

            I'm not blind to how both John and Bobby allowed J. Edgar Hoover to run roughshod over civil liberties; nor to his father's mob connections. I'm also not blind to how he negotiated with King and turned Bobby loose on the mob.

            The era, and the people in it, are not so black and white as you seem to want them to be. You still haven't refuted that Kennedy infused popular discourse with the ideals of service to others, the use of soft power to accomplish national goals, the advancement of science and technology, and the way forward being through challenging ourselves rather than simply collecting our due.

            •  No, the problem that I have is that the man... (0+ / 0-)

              has been memorialized as a saint.

              He was far from it.

              This diary takes the myths and illusions of JFK and tries to hand them off to Obama.

              I certainly hope that Obama will do better than JFK's illusions.

              •  So do I, but Obama is no Saint Either; (0+ / 0-)

                If it's saints you are looking for, stop watching politics. Even the founding fathers were human, and one must recognize Jefferson's and Washington's accomplishments in spite of their ownining slaves and salivating over other men's wives.

                The trick, I find, is no different than applying common sense to every day life. You seek out the good people do and try to build on it; you don't make progress by finding people's faults and decrying them.

                I'm not looking for a saint in the White House; I'd much rather have someone who experiences life's struggles like I do, and then manages to raise my vision above my own measly circumstances to help makes this a better nation.

                Idealistic I know. But there you go; idealists built the country.

  •  Good Morning (6+ / 0-)

    I was 24 and working at the photo desk of a newspaper in 1968. I've often wondered what it was like for the people growing up without a good president.

    No wonder we feel so deeply for Obama. I know I do.

  •  "In my lifetime, presidents were always (7+ / 0-)

    bad men."  That sentence absolutely blows me away!

    •  To paraphrase the Wizard of Oz (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      rb608, phrogge prince, David Kroning

      They were good men, but bad wizards.

      •  No, with the exception of Ford (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        phrogge prince, David Kroning

        Each of the Republican presidents in the last third of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st were either nefarious or stupid -- or worse, both.

        Clinton, I think, has to be mesured in light of a Republican witch hunt that obsessed over descriptions of his penis. Of course, it didn't help that he was monumentally stupid about where to find sex. He wasn't the man I was looking for, but his principles reflected my own and he steered government away from the welfar for fatcats metality of the Reagan era.

        GWB quickly put an end to that, of course.

  •  Nicely written (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Lashe, Foxwizard, drblack

    As a somewhat older guy, I occasionally wonder about the perspectives of those younger.  What are their historical benchmarks?  How did they perceive the world growing up.  Thanks for sharing yours.

    When the oak is felled the whole forest echoes with its fall, but a hundred acorns are sown in silence by an unnoticed breeze. -Thomas Carlyle

    by rb608 on Sat May 31, 2008 at 06:06:47 AM PDT

  •  I do hope we all watch President Obama (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    vet24, Lashe, Foxwizard, David Kroning

     It is important in a democracy to keep on the leaders and remember that they are civil servants , with the emphasis on servants.
       One reason I like the Democrats is that we expect our leaders to keep their promises and will tell them when they are going astray.
      The right wing republicans have been obsessed with a "my team must win at any cost" mentality that kills Freedom, democracy and government accountability. It is more like a sporting event then a serious attempt at good government.
      This has resulted in Bush 2 and his betrayal of ALL  American values.  If republican values continue to set policy, then the USA will become a police state, it is at least half way there at  this moment.

  •  Wonderfully written - and, sounds like my life (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    lotlizard, Foxwizard

    You're only two years ahead of me. A few other things I remember from the time:

    For whatever reason, my two earliest "news" memories are helicopters. The helicopter taking off from the roof of the building in Saigon, and Marine One taking off from the White House lawn. (The names and places came later; the images I remember.)

    Our family always turned on the news at dinner. We'd watch local and national, and talk about what was happening.

    I, too, voted for John Anderson in my school election. I remember feeling cheated when I found out what had been done to Carter.

    Reagan came in and crushed the air traffic controllers union. (I'm sure blacklisting ATCs with years and decades of experience made us SO much safer.)

    I watched as he destroyed family farms.

    Both sides of my family were strongly union. Many of those that weren't, were farmers. Some literally lost the farm.

    I remember strikes all over the country; I remember farm bankruptcy sales everywhere you went.

    I remember a national debt that was growing exponentially, and a crippling military budget. I remember Nicaragua and Grenada.

    I remember the day that moron ordered the bombing of Tripoli - because Qaddafi supposedly had nuclear weapons. The rest of the day I worried and wondered - if Qaddafi actually did have a nuke, where would he aim it? I finally decide probably somewhere between New York & DC. If he had two, though, the next logical target would be the breadbasket, somewhere like NE or IA.  Too close to home, in other words.

    In the end, I was almost glad Reagan had lied.

    I was an exchange student in HS, lived in Germany for  three months. The US was NOT liked, and I saw and understood why. (Many people thought I must be Canadian, because I wasn't rude and didn't get in people's faces about how great the US and Reagan were.)

    I remember wearing my Dukakis T-shirt to school on election day. I was a senior in HS, and just old enough to vote. (I kept my jacket on when I voted, so I wouldn't be displaying any "campaign signs" 'cause, well, you're not supposed to do that in a polling place.)

    The 90's got better. There were more jobs after about '95. Interest rates came down. Many things improved.

    Then came 2000, and the theft/appointment. It happened again in 2004. Disasters.

    Not this year. Please the gods, not again this year.

    Carry the battle to them. Don't let them bring it to you. Put them on the defensive and don't ever apologize for anything.
    Harry S Truman

    by Lashe on Sat May 31, 2008 at 06:37:09 AM PDT

  •  Thank you for this diary, and you need to (0+ / 0-)

    know that those of us just before you have mourned the heroes unceasingly since 1968.

    Perhaps that's part of the problem; perhaps with the death of our idealsists, the ideals themsevles suffered a fatal blow. I'd rather that were not the case, but I can't help observing that it's the boomers driving the me-first, get mind and damned yours principles that lifted GWB to office.

    Here's the thing, though. Heroes are not just the visible, public leaders. In many ways, they can only build on the mightier feats and sacrifices of the lesser known heroes. The summer of freedom riders was preceded by a decade of civil rights work in the south by likes of MLK's congregation members. It was finally a lone woman, who refused to move her seat on a bus, who lit the flame that killed Jim Crow.

    It was four young students who walked through a hostile crowd in a Kansas school that gave visibility to the civil rights movment. It was five young students shot by the Army in Kent, Ohio, that made the peace movement.

    It's these lesser known heroes that we need even more desperately now, because the foundations are crumbling; our country is in peril from the very keystone on up.

    What we need is you.

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